A train pulls out of Baltimore's Penn station. Boarding passengers
include Barnaby, the scruffily dressed, estranged
scion of the "old" Baltimore Gaitlins, and a prim,
hair-netted young woman. Idly snooping,
Barnaby sees this woman accept a mysterious
package from a frantic stranger, who claims it is a
passport forgotten by his daughter, awaiting its
delivery in Philadelphia. On his way, reluctantly,
to a rendezvous with his ex-wife and 9-year-old
daughter, Barnaby spends the train ride futilely
willing the prim woman to open the package,
astonished at her ability to be "so well behaved
even when she thought nobody was looking."
Fans will recognize, in this opening cocktail of
Baltimore, frayed family ties, and the fateful
encounter of strangers, the simultaneously
mundane and magical world of Anne Tyler. They
may find, however, that in A Patchwork Planet
the mundane overwhelms the magical. Tyler's
14th novel is narrated with wry bafflement by
29-year-old Barnaby, whose life has gone off the
rails since he was caught robbing neighborhood
homes as an adolescent. A true Tyler protagonist,
Barnaby seeks out the detritus of human
relationships rather than looting stereos and
jewelry: "Back in the days when I was a juvenile
delinquent, I used to break into houses and read
people's private mail. Also photo albums ... I sat
on the sofa poring over somebody's wedding
pictures." To the despair of his distant father, his
social-climbing mother, his chilly ex-wife and his
prematurely patriarchal brother, Barnaby now
works for a company called Rent-a-Back, doing
odd jobs for elderly clients.
He also waits, without much hope, for a visitation
from the Gaitlin angel. It was such an angel a
"big, tall woman with golden hair coiled in a braid
on top of her head" who first suggested to
Barnaby's great-grandfather the invention of the
wooden dress-form that made the Gaitlins rich.
We know that Barnaby will find his angel, though
perhaps not where he first looks; we also know
that his search will lead him through family crises
and reconciliations. Indeed, the theme and action
of A Patchwork Planet, as in all of Tyler's
novels, can be summed up in Barnaby's
reflections on how "these family messes" are
temporarily resolved: "The most unforgivable
things got ... oh, not forgiven. Never forgiven.
But swept beneath the rug, at least; brushed
temporarily to one side; buried in a shallow
In A Patchwork Planet, however, the shallow
burials and exhumations of the familiar Tyler
types the passive, lovable loser man, the
provocatively undernourished girl, the
less-than-loving mother seem more mechanical
than epiphanic. The characters are exasperatingly,
rather than charmingly, quirky: As Barnaby
misses one more appointment or confesses to
having once attempted to torch his parents'
house, the reader may share his family's
annoyance. Tyler's best novels, such as Dinner
at the Homesick Restaurant, hit their targets
her readers' hearts with a gentle but satisfying
jolt. They expose the damage done by familial
negotiations, but insist on the possibility of
consolation. A Patchwork Planet diverts, but its
characters' wounds don't go very deep, and their
recoveries fail to inspire.
From the Publisher
"Anne Tyler writes like an angel....One of those books that readers close at the end and recognize the truth they contain."
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
"A PERFECT GEM...TYLER'S BOOKS GET WISER, FUNNIER AND RICHER AS THEY GO."
The Seattle Times
"SO WONDERFULLY READABLE THAT ONE SWALLOWS IT IN A SINGLE GULP...What makes this novel so irresistible is the main character and narrator Barnaby Gaitlin, a 30-year-old misfit, a renegade who is actually a kind-hearted man struggling to find his place in the world."
"IF WE BELIEVE THAT SERIOUS NOVELS ARE ABOUT THE SEARCH FOR A TRUE HOME, THEN A PATCHWORK PLANET IS A NOVEL THAT REPAYS OUR ALWAYS DELIGHTED ATTENTION."
Carol Shields, The New York Times Book Review
"POSSESSES A TENDERNESS REMINISCENT OF BREATHING LESSONS...[Tyler] is beloved not just for her three-dimensional Baltimore or her quirkily intimate characters, but also for the small, heroic struggles they encounter in the course of a day."
The Boston Sunday Globe
"VINTAGE TYLER...A PATCHWORK PLANET TELLS THE HEART-TUGGING STORY OF THE SINS OF THE BOY BEING VISITED ON THE MAN."
"FRESH AND ENGAGING."
"Filled with insight and compassion, Anne Tyler's 14th novel chronicles a year in the life of a 30-year-old 'loser' named Barnaby Gaitlin....Tyler has crafted a remarkably lovable character, a young man as endearing as Macon Leary, the memorable protagonist of her 1985 bestseller, The Accidental Tourist."
Minneapolis Star Tribune
"What resonates throughout the novel is Tyler's gentle wisdom. Her understanding of the complexities of human nature comes across beautifully, making this book a singular treat....She endows the tale of Barnaby's eventual self-discovery and redemption with charm, quiet humor and many bittersweet observations on the meaning of emotional connectedness with those around us, the aging process and the ability we all possess to start afresh."
The Miami Herald
"This could only be Tyler territory, where losers are treated with a tenderness that encourages them to consider winning in the world. In her 14th novel, the persuasive storyteller with the beautiful, unforced style works her familiar groundfamily, connection, the quirks of humanswith ease."
"A Patchwork Planet is filled with descriptions that summarize an entire way of life in a single image....[Tyler's] genius lies in making quotidian events extraordinarily poignant."
San Francisco Chronicle
"In an uncertain world, it's reassuring to know for an absolute fact that Anne Tyler's next novel (and the one after that and the one after that) will cause me to shiver at truths that I recognize but have never heard voiced, pinch me sharply with its poignancy and catch me off guard with funny moments that make me laugh so hard I have to put the book down until I get a grip on myself. Tyler's 14th novel, A Patchwork Planet, does all that."
San Diego Union Tribune
Tyler's many admirers are sure to number this among her very best work....[Her] appealing warmth and flair for eccentric comedy are abundantly displayed in her superb 14th novel."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"It is Tyler's great talent to involves us thoroughly with her characters. With a keen eye for detail and the sense of humanity that she displayed in her 1985 novel The Accidental Tourist, Tyler brilliantly portrays their foibles, their disappointments and their hopes. Barnaby Gaitlin is one of her most sympathetic creations."
"A Patchwork Planet, Pulitzer Prize-winning Anne Tyler's 14th novel, finds the black-sheep son of an old Baltimore family attempting to get his life on track....Recalls Tyler's early works, such as Celestial Navigation and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which...are peopled by genuine eccentrics whose grip on the world is charmingly, but definitely, precarious...Anne Tyler lovingly captures that world."
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Writing with humor and pathos worthy of her previous works, Tyler continues to make distinctive observations about the quirks and peculiarities of domestic life and the struggle of some lost souls to be part of a world where everyone else seems focused on the beaten path."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"I adore Anne Tyler...It's hard to imagine any other writer...whom you can read with such unalloyed pleasure."
San Jose Mercury News
"This is a wonderful noveldon't miss it!...A Patchwork Planet is like a crazy quilt with familiar fabrics which, when assembled, becomes unique."
"THIS IS A BOOK YOU CAN TRUST. . . .
Tyler understands this modest world, both its frustrations and its rewards. With each funny, painful novel, she adds another square to her tapestry of redemption."
The Christian Science Monitor
"Always entertaining...Anne Tyler once again creates characters that are believable, funny and true....In Barnaby Gaitlin, Tyler has created a character who looks into the mirror of self-revelation and finds not only flaws but redeeming qualities as well."
"A sophisticated, poignant and carefully crafted chart of the vicissitudes of trust."
Time Out New York
"I don't know whether anyone has called Tyler a fin-de-siècle Jane Austen. I guess I'll do it here. Like Austen's, Tyler's books are full of life's little lessons, closely observed and compassionately recounted....A Patchwork Planet is filled with pleasure and pain. That the pleasure triumphs is [Tyler's] final kindness to us, her readers."
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
"The novel is wise and funny....Not only a colorful snapshot of youth but a compassionate picture of old age...With exquisite description and flawless dialogue, Tyler dignifies the lives of miraculously ordinary characters."
New York Daily News
"Alternately comedic and tragic...With A Patchwork Planet, Tyler has once again served up literary comfort food for the soul."